Exactly one week from today, India will commemorate the horrific attacks on Mumbai. Each one of us probably remembers exactly where we were during those three days. Some, like me, lost close friends in the attacks and we all felt collective helplessness waiting outside the Taj and Trident hotels for the commando operations to end. A year later, the most pressing question doing the rounds is—are we better prepared?
In the days that followed, authorities from all over the world poured into India to advise us on dealing with terrorists. People became experts on the matter of security and even Page 3 regulars had an opinion on the subject. At one point, so many security experts from a certain country had gathered in India that I was getting a little concerned about the safety of that country! Several reports were written, promises made and plans designed. But by and large, the general lament seems to be that nothing has changed.
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I see the situation differently. The beginning of any change is a point in time, determined more by the events that follow it rather than the point itself. To that extent, the US had 9/11, the UK had 11/7 and perhaps India had 26/11. And while it would be fashionable to argue that very little has improved, I think we must appreciate a few aspects about security before we judge the extent of progress that has been made.
Before we proceed, I want to clarify that I believe India is wanting in its desired standard of security. That is a given. The question we are asking today is not whether India is secure—but whether the needle has moved in the last 12 months.
While security is almost a birthright and a prerequisite to all other elements of development, aiming to improve it in isolation is naïve. After an incident like 26/11, the people will understandably clamour for activities which assure better preparedness next time around. So visible actions such as creating NSG (National Security Guard) hubs, modernizing the police force and improving intelligence are all important and legitimate expectations. But to expect that security standards can improve dramatically in a matter of 12 months is a tall order simply because of the scale and complexity of the requirements. It is a bit like saying we need to be prepared for the next earthquake in 12 months after the last one has hit us.
So what has changed? I believe India witnessed a watershed with respect to its security mindset with 26/11—and the way we view internal security has altered fundamentally. And this is not limited to a small set of people, i.e., those who were close to the events last year, or involved with India’s security infrastructure, or simply political or social observers. There is a noticeable shift in every possible stakeholder’s mindset—and this augurs well for the shape of things to come.
Let’s begin with our citizens who have indicated that they have had enough. And this is not about candlelight vigils. Instead, it is about a realization that better security comes at some personal sacrifice. In the last one year, cooperation and empathy with security staff at airports, hotels and other public places is a telling indicator that the common man is happy to pull his weight when it comes to suffering inconveniences for better security. No longer do Indians make faces or throw tantrums or even object to delays caused by security measures.
Secondly, companies have got into the act. In the last one year, more firms than ever before have made substantial investments in terms of security apparatus, personnel and training. Bodies such as the Confederation of Indian Industry and Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry have added security to their agenda and conducted programmes for their members and the general public.
Thirdly, the media has been supportive of the enhanced attention to security issues. In fact, it has played a proactive role in creating momentum and making security everyone’s business. By highlighting how easy it was for 26/11 to happen, they have raised the bar for the future.
And lastly, the government response has been heartening as well. There wasn’t any serious attempt to cover up failures after 26/11. Rapid leadership changes were effected. Leaders with track records were put on the job, resources were mobilized, equipment was procured and new establishments were raised. For the first time, we saw no hesitation on account of foreign relations or political correctness for the government to mince its words. The message is unequivocal—whether against Pakistan for supporting terrorists or dealing with the home-grown Maoists. The time for pussy-footing is over.
Meaningful preparedness of any sort takes time to mature. And many of these steps, especially those involving the more elaborate measures such as intelligence and modernization programmes, will have to go through their gestation periods to start yielding results. But the heartening factor is the first traces of a shifting mindset—the underlying determination that we are ready to do whatever it takes to make it happen—a sentiment that wasn’t as assertive during the terrorist provocations that occurred in the past, including the audacious attack on Parliament. And that, perhaps, is the best indicator that a lot has changed in the last 12 months.
Raghu Raman is chief executive of corporate risk consulting firm Mahindra Special Services Group that advises companies and organizations on threat assessments and risk mitigation strategies. Respond to this fortnightly column at firstname.lastname@example.org